5 Things Washington: Q&A w/Rep. Bateman, ACA subsidy expansion, Overdose deaths accelerate
Our new 2021 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference is coming together well. We will release the full list of over 100 speakers in two weeks time ahead of our April 7-8th event. You’ll see some names you recognize from the Northwest congressional delegation there – as well as some national figures that you often see in the news.
We’d love to have you register to be with us, if you can make it. So, we created a discount code that will lower the price of the regular registration back down to our Early Bird rates – but it’s only good this week, and we’re only sharing it with our Washington State readers. We hope to have you with us at this first federal conference!
With help from Emily Boerger
1. Rep. Bateman on health and housing
Intersectionality is the through line in housing and health care policy legislation this session, says Rep. Jessica Bateman. As Vice Chair of the Health Care and Wellness Committee, Bateman has helped shepherd several key bills that are still alive, including HB 1477 (implementing the national 988 system), HB 1086 (creating the state office of behavioral health consumer advocacy) and HB 1218 (improving quality of life for residents in long-term care facilities).
In an interview with State of Reform reporter Sydney Kurle, Bateman discussed how efforts to strengthen Washington’s social safety net can help deliver Whole Person Care in a more coordinated manner. A freshman representative and former Olympia City Councilmember, Bateman was also the first in her family to graduate from college. She discussed how her single-mother’s public sector union job made that feat possible.
2. Status update on public health funding bills
Lawmakers held a public hearing Monday on a bill to impose the nation’s first statewide sweetened beverage tax, with funding going toward foundational public health serves and health equity initiatives. Bill sponsor Sen. June Robinson says the bill will help reduce consumption of sugary drinks while increasing state public health investments. Business owners and grocery, food, and beverage industry representatives testified in opposition during the hearing, and some committee members questioned if the new tax would be considered regressive.
Gov. Inslee’s proposed covered lives assessment, which would also fund foundational public health services, passed out of the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee after lawmakers lowered the proposed per member per month tax and set a maximum total assessment to be collected for each fiscal year. Neither bill made it out of fiscal committee ahead of Monday’s cutoff, but it’s important to note that the bills could still be labeled NTIB (necessary to implement the budget) and move forward this session.
3. Health reform in federal COVID bill
The $1.9 trillion COVID relief package currently working its way through Congress has become a magnet for consequential health reform measures. In his latest piece, State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta outlines the health measures in the bill that “will be significant for policy debates in the years ahead.”
Among the list of changes is an increase in premium tax credits for households receiving insurance through the ACA exchanges. The bill would fully subsidize coverage for households below 150% FPL, it would increase subsidies for those up to 400% FPL, and it would remove the 400% FPL cap, allowing any household to get coverage through the ACA exchanges with a premium of no more than 8.5% of annual income.
A recent analysis estimates that for an enrollee in Washington at 430% FPL, the expanded subsidies would decrease monthly premiums from $595 to $163 (lowest-cost bronze), $821 to $390 (benchmark silver), and $895 to $463 (lowest-cost gold).
4. Overdose deaths accelerate in Washington
New data from DOH show overdose deaths in Washington increased 38% in the first half of 2020 compared to their levels in the first half of 2019. The department says most of the increase comes from deaths involving fentanyl.
The increase in overdose deaths was highest in groups that already experience inequitable health outcomes including American Indian and Alaska Natives, Latinx, and Black individuals. “The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us,” says Bob Lutz, state medical advisor for the COVID-19 response. “Those Washingtonians with substance use disorder may have found themselves using more frequently, and unfortunately, the data suggest they are also overdosing more often.”
5. Two big hires in Washington State health care
Jay Fathi has been hired as President & CEO of Molina Healthcare, the state’s largest Medicaid plan. He previously led Coordinated Care as it launched in Washington State, and prior to that served as a family care physician with Swedish. He starts March 8th.
Joel Gilbertson will take over the reins for the Washington and Montana markets for Providence Health & Services as market CEO. Providence is the state’s largest provider. Joel has been a long time senior member of the Prov system leadership team overseeing regulatory and community affairs, among other responsibilities. He now has market and operational duties for all of Washington State, except for the Swedish brand operations in Puget Sound. He starts in the role next week.